The seventh episode of Marvel's animated What If...? anthology series hosted one heck of a party with a debaucherous spin on the handsome and charismatic God of Thunder. Set in a universe where Odin returned Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to his Frost Giant kinsman and raised Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as an only child, this week's tale of intrigue preaches an important lesson about responsibility and owning up to one's destructive actions.
It almost feels like a coming-of-age John Hughes movie from the 1980s (think Ferris Bueller's Day Off) tucked inside the colorful wrapper of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But that light-hearted atmosphere disappears like droplets of water sprinkled onto the hot surface of a frying pan in the episode's final moments when Asgard's king-in-training finds himself confronted with a problem he can't solve by kickstarting an energy grid or removing icicle mustaches off the presidents carved into Mount Rushmore.
Let's talk about what that cliffhanger ending could mean, shall we?
WARNING! The following contains major spoilers for Episode 7 of What If...? (!!!)
Episode 7 lulls the viewer into a false sense of security with the promise of a happy ending. Having learned his lesson about partying on other planets, Thor successfully asks Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) out on a date. Flush with confidence and a blossoming romance akin to what fans have seen in the MCU regular continuity, Thor turns to leave. The only problem? His path is suddenly blocked by what looks like Ultron inside the vibranium Vision body, wielding all six Infinity Stones and leading a robot army. It's such a shocking sight, in fact, that even Uatu the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) reacts in surprise.
So, what does it mean? How did Ultron not only succeed in uploading himself into the Vision mold, but also secure six of the most powerful artifacts in the known universe (the influence of the TVA notwithstanding)? More importantly — is he voiced by James Spader or Paul Bettany?!
Well, let's look at why Tony Stark and Bruce Banner created the rogue A.I. in the first place. The former wanted to prevent another world-ending attack similar to the one he and the other Avengers faced in New York. What if (no pun intended) the Tony living in the Episode 7 dimension had the same line of thinking and built Ultron as a deterrent against Thor, whom he saw as a dangerous alien threat? However, the machine gained sentience — just like it does in Age of Ultron — and developed one hell of a Thanos-esque god complex as well as a profound desire to wipe humanity out of existence?
"Tony 100 percent would have been a part of the giant party, but we didn't see him because he was dealing with this, which also leads me to believe that since Ultron got this far, Tony died AGAIN just off screen during the episode," postulated one Twitter user by the name of @truce_top.
That's one way to look at things. Another theory is that this iteration of Ultron has something to do with Hank Pym, who gave life to the murderous machine in the original comics. In Rick Remender and Jerome Opena's Rage of Ultron storyline from 2015, Pym merged with his creation, leading to a being that referrted to itself as "Ultron Pym."
However, it was later revealed that Hank died during the process and Ultron was simply occupying his body. The idea of an evil and homicidal Dr. Pym is nothing new to the What If...? universe, as it already served as the big reveal for Episode 3.
Then there's Infinity Countdown, a 2018 comic book arc (by Gerry Duggan, Mike Deodato, and Aaron Kuder) in which Ultron actively tries to collect all six Infinity Stones before he's thwarted by Galactus, Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock.
What If...? could very well be drawing from that storyline for inspiration, Twitter user @captaincupkicks has a pretty neat prediction that ties into the recent mid-season trailer that showed Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) teaming up with the likes of Thor and Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell)
"When Ultron gains the infinity stones, he uses them to take over the multiverse. Strange Supreme figures this out and uses his high level magic to portal to another universe and assemble the Guardians of the Multiverse to stop him."
Is the series building up to an Endgame-style crossover event for the end of Season1? Head writer A.C. Bradley does hope to resolve some of these open-ended stingers, but can't promise that we'll get follow-ups to every single one of them.
“The ending twists that many of the episodes have, not all of them, came from a place of loving the Marvel tags — the Marvel credit scenes,” Bradley said last month. “So the idea was that we resolve the entire episode, like we resolve the T’Challa Wakanda Ravagers of it all. Then we give kind of what would be our mid-credit scene. So the hope is, if we do sequel episodes, if we do see the heroes later on, that we answer some of the questions raised in those twists. But they’re not meant to be ironclad promises of future episodes, it was just kind of ‘what would be a fun twist at the end of this?’ The What If...? comics were known for having very surprising endings. So we wanted to pay tribute to that.”
Episodes 1-7 of Marvel's What If...? are now available to stream on Disney+. Episode 8 premieres on the streaming platform next Wednesday, Sep. 29.